In the midst of my depression of how no one apparently listened to Rodney King in 1992 after the police had given him a horrific beating in Los Angeles when he said, “People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? Can we get along?” Apparently not.
i am wrestling with how to deal with this, opt out or somehow do or write something for positive change. i’m not even sure i can deal with making the decision. So today after several exchanges with friends on what is happening, i put it aside and went back to something dear to me.
i am excited about getting closer to finishing the first draft of my manuscript of my book. It will be a while before it reaches publishing quality, but closure is getting closer. Unless the old man keels over unexpectedly, i will finish the necessary revisions and publish it in one fashion or another. But it will be published. And, i promise it will not vary a great deal from my intended sea story and purpose for writing it in the first place. So this is something to tickle your interest, hopefully to make you anxious to buy q copy when i finally do publish it, an unabashed marketing tactic.
i don’t like marketing, especially when it doesn’t simply market the product but instead tries to induce you to buy it regardless with crazy promises, sex, happiness, and every other inducement the PR folks can think of using to hook you.
But here i am. This is the prologue for my book. i hope you find it interesting:
Steel Decks and Glass Ceilings
This is a sea story.
A sea story is a recollection of an event on ships at sea narrated by a mariner. The Naval Air Force and the Submarine forces, part of the Navy, also call their narrations sea stories, but that is a misnomer. They should be called air stories or underwater stories, but they still like to identify themselves with the Navy, hence: sea stories. Sea stories can extend to liberty or be about other military services, even about landlubbers, but always connected to the sea. The Army has war stories, similar in nature. I am not sure what the Air Force would call their stories, and the Marines have to be confused as to what they call their stories since they long ago expanded from their mission of extending military force from ships at sea.
A sea story is from the perspective of the narrator, and thus, as Kris Kristofferson put it in the lyrics of his song “The Pilgrim, Chapter 33,” is “…partly truth and partly fiction.” However, the narrator believes his sea story is truth, factual, with a little poetic license woven into the tale.
A sea story is usually oral history, a tale told to other seamen, usually around drinks at a bar. Or rather, a sea story used to be like that. I don’t know where Navy folks now a days tell their sea stories. This sea story is written by an old sea dog. Me.
Had I been more specific in my notes I wrote in my desk calendars and my spiral notebooks where I recorded my action lists and tickler for events, this sea story would have been more factual. Had this executive officer in his official capacity as navigator been more diligent in requiring proper entries in the ship’s deck log, I could be confident in many of the events told in this sea story, but I was busy with many other duties of what I judged to be a higher priority and signed off the monthly submission of deck logs to higher authority with cursory glances. Had I kept a daily diary, I would pretty much have nailed the events, but I was a love sick, recently married man, and my free time was spent writing letters to my bride back home.
I am telling, or rather writing this story for several reasons.
One: I believe this sea story points out how not over thinking about getting the job done and always approaching the tasks at hand by focusing on the mission and considering what is the right thing to do will nearly always work best.
Two: Women have been integrated into the Surface Navy as I write. They are on those steel decks in full force. But I am sure glass ceilings remain. When this sea story occurred in 1983 and 1984, the inclusion of women on ships was in its infancy. The female officers and enlisted aboard the first ship to spend extended out of port time at sea with them as part of the ship’s complement proved they belonged. Those women are the real heroes, er, heroines, in this sea story. They should be honored by both men and women who served after them. This is their sea story as well as mine.
Three: Our military forces, our government, and our citizens continue to lay social mores, current culture issues, and political positions over how military forces are structured and how those forces operate. These forces have become as much of a social engineering experiment as a fighting force. If we want the most effective military to accomplish its mission, then all of those layers should be disregarded. Our military personnel should be those who are best able to accomplish the mission. Neither gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, nor religious preference should be limiting factors. I believe this sea story points out it can be done.
Four: I saw something work well for all concerned in a contentious, political situation because it was kept simple: Our captain was the guiding light doing it the “Navy way,” the right way. I think it’s a good story about the right way to approach contentious, political situations.
* * *
For numerous reasons, I have not used the real names for all of the people in this story, primarily for those people who created problems during the deployment. I initially decided naming these folks correctly was not a big deal. I checked with some experts who had more knowledge and experience than I and concluded naming the guilty was not my problem. I was willing to take the chance of my sea story generating a lawsuit by someone ruffled by my depiction of them. I wanted the story to be as accurate as it could be.
Several friends and my wife were concerned about possible libel suits from the guilty. Although I had considered such a possibility, this is not the reason I changed my mind about names. But with the number of folks voicing concern, I sat down to reconsider the situation.
I concluded naming those guilty folks would serve no purpose other than to put their names out there with a negative connotation for the public at large. During my two-year tour aboard Yosemite, there were four crew members, one female and three males, that drove me bonkers with their disruption of good order and discipline. Although I told myself I was only being accurate, I subconsciously could be harboring thoughts of revenge for the trouble they caused me. I am better than that, above revenge, above holding a grudge.
I have tried to do what is correct, what is right in my personal and professional life. I certainly haven’t been perfect, but I have tried. My good friend and shipmate during my last tour, Peter Thomas articulated this well in a discussion we had several years ago when I asked him what one characteristic, one competency was most important in being an effective leader. Peter said, “Do the right thing.” Peter’s words stuck with me, and I have considered what is the right thing in this instance.
The names of some guilty personnel are fictional in this sea story. I have given these individuals the generic name of “Schmidt,” followed by a number to distinguish one from the others. Why? Why not “Doe” or “Smith,” or even the old Navy moniker of “Joe Shit the Rag Man?”
Because for me, “Schmidt” is perfect.
I was raised in a strict Southern Methodist family. We didn’t have any booze in the house except whiskey flavoring for boil custard at Christmas. And at nine years old, I stopped that when my father was flavoring his boiled custard and preparing to pass it to one of my uncles and I asked him if I could have some for my boiled custard. After that there was no booze of any kind in our house.
There also was no profanity. Then, my father told a joke at the breakfast table on the Sunday before Christmas. I was fourteen, my younger brother Joe, was nine.
Daddy turned to Joe and said, “On one Christmas Eve, Santa was in his sleigh in the sky headed to give gifts to all of the children. His sleigh was being pulled by his reindeer with Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer in the lead. Santa was giving instructions to Rudolph about which roof to land on next. All of a sudden, Rudolph took a steep dive downward. The other reindeer followed and down came the sleigh carrying Santa.
“Rudolph and the whole shebang crashed into an outhouse. Santa climbed out of his sleigh, out of the outhouse basement and finally outside. As he wiped all of the foul content off his red outfit, he cried out, ‘Dammit, Rudolph, I said the Schmidt house!'”
My mother was aghast. My sister chuckled. Joe and I were rolling on the breakfast room floor laughing.
But as Paul Harvey used to say, that was not the end of the story.
As we often did on Sundays after church, we went to dinner (also known as lunch in other parts of the country) along with our Aunt Bettye Kate and Uncle Snooks Hall. It was a nice family restaurant on North Cumberland near East High Street. I don’t remember the name, but it was good and on that Sunday, crowded. We sat at a table in the middle of the room. The males, Joe, Uncle Snooks, our father, and I sat at one end. The women, Aunt Bettye Kate, Martha, and our mother sat at the other end.
Sometime during the repast, brother Joe asked our father if he could tell the Santa joke to Uncle Snooks. Daddy, with a mischievous grin, nodded it was okay. Joe, all nine-years old of boy, got excited and began to tell the story. As he described Rudolph going into his dive, Joe became more excited and increasingly louder. By the time he reached the part where Santa was climbing out of the outhouse and brushing himself off, he was practically yelling. Quite a few of the other diners had stopped eating and were listening.
When he reached the final line, Joe shouted, “Rudolph, I said the Schmidt house!” my mother was aghast again, Martha and Aunt Bettye Kate were trying to hold back their laughter, but Uncle Snooks, Daddy, and I were practically rolling on the floor.
Aunt Bettye Kate memorialized the event with a cross-stitch of the scene with Rudolph, Santa, the outhouse, and the punch line. I still have the cross-stitch and pull it out every Christmas to put it in a place of honor, and I laugh once again. My anonymous trouble makers have to be named Schmidt in honor of my family and the legendary joke.
There are a couple of more folks who might be embarrassed to be named in some of the situations during the deployment. Since they are not of the guilty kind, I have named them “Bilbo” also with a number in order of appearance in this narrative.
A Few More Thoughts Before Getting Underway
I have been either working on or thinking about working on this book for about thirty-five years. One of my biggest obstacles has been wanting to make it perfect, true, reality. But it can’t be perfect, true, reality. This is my perception of that deployment, a view as the USS Yosemite’s Executive Officer.
Although I’ve wrestled with writing the book, the working title, Steel Decks and Glass Ceilings came to me shortly after I left the Yosemite in late April 1985. I think it’s a keeper.
One guy who was a critical part to making the deployment a success was the First Lieutenant. George Sitton was a Boatswain Limited Duty Officer (LDO) Lieutenant. He was an old salt, the epitome of the old Navy on the deck plates. He also became a good friend. We kept in touch long after we left the ship. George passed away in 2006 in Tyler, Texas at age 59, way too early. George and I shared deck, boat, crane, and amphibious stories from our time at sea, especially on the West Coast. We knew many mutual shipmates from the past in deck departments and Boat Master Units.
I thought it was only proper to dedicate this book to George.
This is a story of what happened quite a while ago. It is told from the perspective of the executive officer of the USS Yosemite (AD 19) when she was the first U.S. Navy ship to spend extended out of port time at sea with women as part of the ship’s complement.
I was that executive officer. I reported aboard 0830, Thursday, August 11, 1983. This is my sea story.
This tale is limited to Yosemite’s deployment when she departed her home port of Mayport (Jacksonville), Florida, September 9, 1983 until she returned, April 26, 1984. I have used my daily notes from calendars and spiral notebooks I kept at the time, invaluable input from shipmates during that tour, the ship’s logs, the daily “Plan of the Day” information sheets, letters between LT Noreen Leahy and her new husband LTJG Jim Leahy and the summaries of LTJG Emily Baker’s (now Emily Black) letters to her parents as well as those between my brand new wife Maureen and myself. I have relied extensively on recall of these and other officers: LTJG Linda Schlesinger (retired as a captain), LT Sharon Carrasco (now Sharon Friendly), LT Frank Kerrigan, Captain Tim Allega, and especially Captain Francis J. Boyle, the commanding officer, in addition to sailors who are members of the Facebook group “USS Yosemite (A.D-19) I.O. cruise 83-84.”
In that gathering of information, I found there were numerous recollections that did not jive with other’s recollections of the same events. It has been almost 40 years since the cruise, and each person involved remembers from a different perspective. I have tried to be as accurate as possible.
But this is a sea story.
It also was an important time for the Navy.
Women and the Navy
Women have long been a part of U.S. Navy history. But the move toward equality and full opportunity for women in all facets of our Navy began after I was commissioned in 1968. The Navy and the world was changing.
In 1972 the pilot program for assignment of officer and enlisted women to ships was initiated on board USS Sanctuary (AH-17).
In 1976, eighty-one women became midshipmen at the United States Naval Academy.
In 1978, Congress approved a change to Title 10 USC Section 6015 to permit the Navy to assign women to sea duty billets on support and noncombatant ships. The Surface Warfare community was opened to women that year as well. In 1979, the first woman obtained her Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) qualification.
In 1979, officer and enlisted women began to be assigned to Navy ships. The ships were mostly tenders or repair ships, which had limited time at sea. Also in 1979, Ensign Deborah A. Loewer who had been at the top of her class at the Navy’s Surface Warfare Officer School after receiving her commission from Officer Candidate School (OCS) in Newport, R.I. was one of the first women to report aboard the USS Yosemite (AD 19). She later earned her two stars and served as Vice Commander, Military Sealift Command.
In 1980, fifty-four female midshipmen in that first class graduated and were commissioned from the Naval Academy.
During this initial integration of women into sea duty, tenders began deploying to Diego Garcia, the British territory in the Chagos atoll chain almost smack in the middle of the Indian Ocean. The concept was for the capital ships to come into Diego Garcia’s lagoon where the anchored tenders would provide maintenance, repair, and other services. This put women on ships really going to sea, not on ships sitting in port on a stateside Navy base, but going places where Navy women on ships had not previously gone.
The Yosemite’s Adventure
After my reporting aboard, Yosemite transited the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, the Suez Canal, the Red Sea, and the Indian Ocean, arriving and anchoring in Diego Garcia, “The Footprint of Freedom” in October.
Captain Francis J. Boyle, Yosemite’s commanding officer recommended to the chain of command she transit north to Masirah, Oman to be closer to ships in Battle Group Alfa. After ten days in Diego Garcia, the recommendation was approved, and Yosemite was sent north, anchoring off the island of Masirah, Oman where ships of the USS Ranger (CVN 61) Battle Group would come alongside and receive the equivalent of a two-week restricted availability in four days.
The women of the crew and the wardroom performed extremely well. Their contributions made the deployment and my two-year tour a success. The Yosemite received a letter of commendation as a member of Battle Group Alfa (the Ranger) Battle Group, something rare if not unique for a repair ship. She was also named the most outstanding repair facility, ship or shore of any kind, in the U.S. Atlantic Fleet. This is the success story of the Yosemite for which both the men and women sailors and officers should be credited. She was the first Navy ship with women as part of ship’s complement to have extended out of port time beyond straight transits from one port to another.
Some Thoughts on my Memoir
The story is also about how this executive officer dealt with the tour as “number two” in my penultimate Navy assignment and my last operational tour.
A number of enlisted personnel also gave me input, a valuable look from a much different angle. Their recollections of the deployment, which I collected, gave me pause roughly three-quarters through the first draft. Their recounting required me to consider, as Bob Seger sang in “Against the Wind,” “…what to leave in and what to leave out.” For those who are not familiar with Navy ships, they may not be familiar with the difference between an officer and an enlisted perspective.
I was not blind or so innocent to believe nothing was going on between men and women on board. I knew how sailors could figure out how to make anything happen if they wanted something to happen. I also knew they were much more cavalier about adhering to regulations than officers. I also knew Mark Twain was correct in his Letters From the Earth, and sex was a primary drive of humans, especially the young ‘un’s
Executive officers are four levels above what is happening on the deck plates: department heads, division officers, chiefs, and leading petty officers are between them and the sailors on those deck plates. The XO’s focus is on the ship’s mission, her daily operation running smoothly, coordinating the operation of each of the departments and special staff, and most of all ensuring he or she reflects the demands, the desires of the commanding officer, even the way the XO projects his or her image, to support the CO at all times. So even though I suspected there was fraternization occurring, it was not easily detected, and I could not have stopped it without having taken draconian actions.
This old salt was surprised with what ensued after I reported aboard. What I experienced convinced me there is a right way and wrong way to bring about change.
The women aboard Yosemite during my time as executive officer proved fully capable of handling duties at sea. During this period when the program was under negative scrutiny from the senior bureaucracy of the Navy and the vast majority of male officers and sailors, the women enthusiastically went to work. There were problems just like there were problems when Navy ships only had men on board, just different problems. Ignoring all of the political maneuvering from those who wanted women to have the right to go to sea and those who were dead set against such a policy, Yosemite men and women rose to the challenge and proved it could be done. Successfully.
The tour also was my final attempt to be selected for command at sea. My final career goal did not reach fruition. Yet, my tour aboard Yosemite as her executive officer was one of the two most rewarding of the eleven tours I had during my twenty-two years of service.
This is my story as best I remember it, or to paraphrase my longtime friend and shipmate JD Waits from out time on the USS Okinawa (LPH-3): “This is my story, and I’m sticking to it.”